September will mark the beginning of the fall wine auction season, and the slate is rife with rarities. The question is whether the coming months' will see a continuation of the the sales pace and record prices set earlier in the year.
The first half of 2007 ended on a strong note. More than 34,000 lots of fine and rare wine worth almost $90 million went on the block; in contrast, volume for the first half of 2006 was about a third lower. By June 2007, 30 sales had achieved an average 94 percent-sold rate--a sure indicator of market strength and demand. The Wine Spectator Auction Index, which tracks prices and performance for collectible wines sold at auction, rose 18.8 points in the first half of 2007, a spike of 6.8 percent.
Most auction watchers predicted the momentum would continue through the fall. Then came the subprime loan crisis, the credit crunch and stock market turmoil. On Wall Street, there were rumors of decreased or cancelled bonuses, which many collectors depend on to defray the costs of their fine and rare wine purchases. How these events will impact the fall sales is anyone's guess at the moment.
Houston wine collector Nicholas Silvers doesn't expect to see a major effect. "The market only hit its highs recently and needed a correction," he said. "Maybe some small players will get jittery, but many of the big hitters at auction are stock-market winners both in up markets and in down markets. One way or the other, I guess we'll begin to see in a few weeks."
Mature wines at auction are still trading at a significant discount to new releases. This September, some lots are even estimated below their second-quarter 2007Wine Spectator Auction Index averages. (These average prices for a specific bottling factor in the buyer's premium, while estimates do not.) A random sampling of sale highlights follows. All auctions listed take place in New York, unless otherwise indicated.
• Aulden Cellars-Sotheby's kicks off the season with a single-cellar evening sale on Sept. 7, featuring the collection of Thomas O. Ryder. A former publisher of Food & Wine magazine, Ryder was most recently chairman and C.E.O. of the Reader's Digest Association, Inc. His cellar focuses on classified Bordeaux from the past 25 years. On offer are a case of Château Pétrus 1982 estimated at $40,000 to $60,000 (compared with the $71,700 that Pétrus '82 brought at the May 19 Sotheby's sale) and a dozen bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild 1982 estimated at $15,000 to $25,000 (less than the $27,485 Lafite 1982 sold for at the same Sotheby's sale). Premium California offerings include four magnums of Heitz Martha's Vineyard 1974 estimated at $10,000 to $20,000. (The Wine Spectator Auction Index average for four magnums of Martha's '74 is $29,932.) The Ryder auction is followed by a finest and rarest sale on Sept. 8.
• At Acker Merrall & Condit's Sept. 7 and 8 auction, a potential showstopper is a case of DRC Romanée-Conti 1999 estimated at $70,000 to $100,000. (The auction index average is $85,884.) Two rare offerings from the stellar 1971 vintage in Burgundy include a dozen bottles of G. Roumier Musigny estimated at $48,000 to $60,000 and 12 bottles of Roumier Bonnes Mares at $30,000 to $42,000. Three magnums of the famed Château Cheval-Blanc 1947 are estimated at $45,000 to $60,000. (The index average is $53,325.) At the lower end of the scale, a jeroboam of Domaine des Lambrays Clos des Lambrays 2002 is estimated at $400 to $500 and a dozen bottles of Chandon de Briailles Corton Les Bressandes 1993 at $350 to $500.
• At Morrell & Co.'s Sept. 8 sale, several high estimates fall below the auction index average for those wines, which means those lots could represent great value--as long as the final bid does not go over the top. Two four-magnum lots of Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réservé 1990 are estimated at $5,800 to $6,800 per lot, 65 percent below the index average. A case of Château Lafite Rothschild 1982 has a high estimate of $10,000, 56 percent below the index average. Six bottles of Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Superiore Riserva 1988 fall 40 percent below the index average, and an imperial of Opus One 1995 with a high estimate of $2,000 runs 35 percent below the index average.
• Highlights of Hart Davis Hart's Sept. 15 auction in Chicago include nine bottles of DRC La Tâche 1990 estimated at $20,000 to $30,000. The wine's index average is $34,893, so any successful bid at the low to mid-estimate would be a relative bargain. A case of Château Cheval-Blanc 1982 is conservatively estimated at $10,000 to $15,000 (the index average is $15,504 per dozen), as are 12 bottles of Château Le Pin 1982 at $36,000 to $56,000 (the index average is $64,104 per dozen). A hard-to-come-by double magnum of Harlan Estate 1994 carries a $15,000 to $22,000 estimate. In total, the sale contains 42 lots from Harlan and 35 lots from Screaming Eagle.
• NewYorkWinesChristie's debuts its fall season on Sept. 15. In addition to several assorted cases of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, there are six bottles of DRC Romanée-Conti 1995 estimated at $22,000 to $32,000 and seven bottles of DRC La Tâche 1969 estimated at $10,000 to $14,000. (The index average for the 1969 La Tâche is $15,820.) Also represented are all first-growth Bordeaux from the 1982 vintage, which have been appreciating rapidly of late. Two rare case-lots from Bruno Giacosa include Barolo Collina Rionda Riserva Speciale 1978 and Barolo Bussia di Monforte Riserva Speciale 1978. Both are offered at $7,000 to $10,000. At the low end of the estimate, they would represent good value.
• Zachys' first major early fall auction takes place on Sept. 14 and 15, but you'll have to wait until Sept. 28 for their showstopper, the pristine private cellar of Dr. Nils Stormby, Sweden's honorary consul general to Japan. He spent more than 50 years amassing his collection. The sale covers more than 70 vintages of Château d'Yquem, including a bottle of 1858 estimated at $5,000 to $8,000 (above the index average of $4,477 per bottle) and five bottles of the legendary 1921 at $4,000 to $7,000 each (the index average is $4,183). There's also a magnum of Yquem 1945 estimated at $7,500 to $12,000. (The index average for Yquem '45 is $8,400.) A case of Château Mouton-Rothschild from the celebrated 1949 vintage is estimated at $40,000 to $60,000. A dozen bottles of E. Guigal La Turque 1985 carry an estimate of $12,000 to $18,000 (below the index average of $26,076).
It's important to remember that unlike the Dow Jones, auctions aren't always the most efficient mechanisms. So if an estimate seems too good to be true, don't be surprised if the wine actually sells for a much higher price.
--Auction correspondent Peter D. Meltzer is author of the recently published Keys to the Cellar: Strategies and Secrets of Wine Collecting (John Wiley).
James Gunter — Texas — October 5, 2011 11:11pm ET
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